Surrender into complexity : a move towards self-directed learning

In reaction to my last post on Learning in Suspension, a good friend of mine tweeted this question :

Challenging one. Especially when it comes from someone with a long experience in meditative movement practice. My first reply was:

You know that one don’t you? When not sure of the answer, reply with a question. Meanwhile a voice inside was saying: “suspension as a moving stillpoint”… although I wasn’t really sure of what it could mean.

Until I read this piece on Complexity by Esko Kilpi where he writes:

“Complexity is a paradoxical movement in time that is both knowable and unknowable. Stability and instability cannot be separated here. It is a dynamic that is called stable instability or unstable stability.”

For me this dance with oxymoron’s unveiled some similar patterns between the paradoxical movement of Learning in Suspension and Learning in Complexity.

Complexity means a totally different theory of causality says Esko Kipli. In a world where the “if-then” model of management is over, one can no longer count on a certain given input leading to a certain given output. What emerges is something that is partially known and partially unknown because of the almost indefinite number of variables influencing what is going on.

Non-linear learning in a non-linear world.

“As long as the work environment hovered between the Simple and Complicated domains, organizations and their L&D departments could take charge of the “learning”— via top-down training programs, traditional e-learning courses, and refresher training and help people apply the best practices and the good practices — pillars of what made the Industrial Era so successful. The L&D and HR had to ensure that employees received some 12 days of training per year and hope that this would make employees effective and efficient at their work and deliver business results.” writes Sahana Chattopadhyay in her post Heutagogy, Self-Directed Learning and Complex Work.

Then she adds : “With the advent of the creative economy (aka Networked Era), there is barely any hope that such training programs will work to build proficiency and capabilities that can meet the demands of the day.”

That’s why she sees Heutagogy as a way forward. A heutagogical learning environment facilitates the development of capable learners and emphasizes both the development of learner competencies as well as development of the learner’s capability and capacity to learn” (Ashton and Newman, 2006; Hase and Kenyon, 2000). “Heutagogy applies a holistic approach to developing learner capabilities, with learning as an active and proactive process, and learners serving as the major agent in their own learning, which occurs as a result of personal experiences” (Hase & Kenyon, 2007, p. 112).

Using the Cynefin model from David Snowden, Sannah describes in this interesting diagram how she understands the relationship between cause and effect, linked to the type of knowledge and the way to learn.

Points of discontinuity for self-directed learning

In his article Unleashing the power of Self-Directed Learning, Richard E. Boyatzis points to some important ingredients for a fruitful self-determined learning landscape.

1) Engage your passion and create your dreams
Based on the premises that adults learn what they want to learn – they need to discover who they want to be – their “Ideal Self”. A reflection of the person’s intrinsic drives vs. the “Ought Self”.

2) Discover your Real Self. See the change and be aware of ego-defence mechanisms that can conspire to delude us into an image of who we are that feeds on itself, becomes self-perpetuating, and eventually may become dysfunctional (D. Goleman). Remember the frog? If one drops a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out with an instinctive defence mechanism. But if you place a frog in a pot of cool water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog will sit in the water until it is boiled to death.

3) Identify or articulate both your strengths (those aspects of yourself you want to preserve) and your gaps or discrepancies of your Real and Ideal Selves (those aspects of yourself you want to adapt or change).

4) Keep your attention on both characteristics, forces or factors – do not let one become the preoccupation! To contemplate change, one must contemplate stability. To identify and commit to changing parts of yourself you must identify those parts you want to keep and possibly enhance.

5) Learning Agenda vs Performance agenda. Create your own personal learning agenda and focus on development. Performance agenda results in people becoming defensive, not wanting to fail or not wanting to look bad.  Learning orientation arouses a positive belief in one’s capability and the hope of improvement, while performance goals arouse the wrong parts of our brain for development. Read also this recent contribution from D. Goleman on LinkedIn.

6) Experiment and practice desired changes. Or to quote Charles Jennings : “Work then learn, then work in an improved way“.

7) Relationships that enable us to Learn. The new economy is not about technology, it is about a change in the basic assumptions about the nature of work in a networked environment. These relationships create a “context” within which we interpret our progress on desired changes, the utility of new learning, and even contribute significant input to formulation of the Ideal. However there is a strong necessity of feeling psychologically safe for that change process. Read also How to accelerate Trust by Simon Terry.

Knowledge is not stored in content anymore it comes from the process of communication and co creation – Sannah Chattopadhyay

E. Boyatzis says in conclusion : “In guiding yourself or others through the self-directed learning process, the learning points can be used as signposts, or benchmarks. […] Please remember, people do not gain these discoveries or experience the epiphany of the discontinuity in a smooth manner. One person may take minutes to achieve a breakthrough of one discovery, and yet another discovery may take several days, weeks, months, or even years.”


(Dancing to the clapping of bands. Egyptian, from the tomb of Ur-ari-en-Ptah,
6th Dynasty, about 3300 B.C. – British Museum.)

A hard-boiled gumshoe dancing in Cairo

In his post Drive like an Egyptian, Steve Wheeler describes what it takes to reach your destination safely in Cairo’s traffic chaos, as a metaphor for self organised learning spaces, “where unwritten rules have evolved to maximise the potential of the tools and environments with which we are increasingly familiar. Learning is no longer linear. Learning in digital environments is a meandering experience, where hyperlinks take you down new and surprising avenues, and conversations take an unexpected turn.”

In his metaphorical story of The Detective as a sense-maker, Richard Martin draws the picture of “the hardboiled gumshoe” vs. the cold/logical/rational type of detective.

“The flâneur and gumshoe recognises that there are no right answers; that they alight upon one possibility among many. That itself is informed by instinct and previous experience, by networked knowledge and serendipity.”

“They accept that they cannot grasp the whole picture, nor comprehend the complete system. Their quiet periods of observation, sitting in cars, listening to wiretaps, looking through cameras and binoculars, allow certain elements to emerge from the chaos.”
“It is not a case of simply what they know, but who they know as well. Their connections and their access to the stories and accumulated wisdom of those people becomes part of the value they themselves can offer. There is also something about understanding the enabling capabilities of the tools available to them too. About having the competency to use them in ways that add value, support sense-making and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and information.”

In 5Rhythms dance, the dancer is not expected to learn any linear choreographed/rehearsed steps, yet the practice comes with some general rules : don’t talk on the dancefloor, keep moving & breathing, keep your eyes open,  etc… The 5R Map – flow/staccato/chaos/lyrical/stillness – is a general container, wherein the dancer is free to express, experiment and move in a conscious way. Usually there is an accredited teacher in the room, someone who plays his/her selected tunes and “holds the space”. Some of these facilitators are more instructional than others obviously, although in general the approach follows a pull model (vs. push) and we are free to ignore any of these guidelines (in drop-in class format at least – it may differ during workshops where guidelines become slightly more specific).

Personally some guidelines I like to hear – and practice – are the following ones : “take ownership of the beat” and “break the beats”. It really helps me ground myself in my own dance and explore a full spectrum of movements – on a physical and, sometimes, emotional level. Probably one reason I am still practising the 5Rhythms today with that level of focus and engagement comes from this self-determined learning process, where I can learn new things continually and land in new places I wasn’t aware of before… In the rhythm of Chaos I can completely surrender. It’s also the place for knowing; where strengths (unstable stability?) can be discovered (shaped) and where I may see what I am ready to let go and change, creating space for something new to come in, replace, or mix with the existing…

A driver in Cairo, a gumshoe and a 5R dancer ? If they have something in common it might be that they are all self-directed learners reaching for meaning (survival…) in a VUCA world.

“A lighted match does not cause a fire. Rather, the fire took place because of a particular combination of elements of which the lighted match was just one.” – Esko Kilpi

As a way to conclude on this fairly chaotic mash-up, I thought I would share this Digitalism remix from the classic “Fire in Cairo” by The Cure…

Do you think of other tunes as soundtrack for this blog post and the Self-Directed Learning process at the digital age ?

Please share them below and let’s keep dancing!

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